Director: Vincente Minnelli
Distributed by: MGM
Gigi is a musical set in France about a debonair man that falls in love with a teenage girl that is being groomed to be the mistress of a wealthy older man. The Academy app....wait....what? What were they thinking? It's also got a song sung by 69 year old Maurice Chevalier (who plays the wealthy older man) titled....wait for it...."Thank Heaven for Little Girls." I didn't realize I was going to be writing about a Lolita prequel. Boy, the fifties were a weird time for the Academy. I blame the movie's colorful and masterful set design that made people forget the weirdness of it all. Plus it was a musical and the Academy went nuts for that stuff for a while. Do you remember the last time a legit musical won Best Picture besides Chicago? It was Oliver! in 1968. Everything has a season. Lerner-Loewe did the script and music, as they did with My Fair Lady, and apparently they are so similar that it made some critics say that "the authors may want to sue themselves." The movie isn't exactly high on anyone's best Best Picture winners, but is still considered a classic. It beat out such films as Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Auntie Mame, but the real contenders weren't even nominated: Touch of Evil and Vertigo. Touch of Evil is classic noir and probably one of my favorites of the genre. Check those two out before you take any time for Gigi. Unless you're dying to see an old man sing about little girls. Yuck.
Director: William Wyler
Distributed by: MGM
The epic story of a Jewish Prince named Judah Ben-Hur (Charlton Heston) who is falsely accused of attempted murder. Ben-Hur is sent away to the galleys and vows his revenge via chariot race. It's a tale of redemption more than it is a tale of vengeance and anger. The beginning of the movie shows the birth of Christ, so the studio execs decided that it wasn't appropriate to have Leo the Lion (mascot of MGM) to roar, so this was the first time in history that Leo was not seen roaring. The film is so epic that it even has the longest score of all time. The competition that year really had no chance. Big movies like this one only came around every so often. If you've got three and a half hours to spare, give this movie a watch, if only for the famous chariot race.
Winner: The Apartment
Director: Billy Wilder
Distributed by: United Artists
The controversial movie and Billy Wilder classic starred Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, and Fred MacMurray. Why was it controversial? Lemmon's character rents out his apartment to higher-ups at the company he works for so they can cheat on their wives without going to a motel. Good clean fun, right? Lemmon's character only puts up with it so he can get ahead at his job, but that all changes when he finds the passed out elevator operator girl (MacLaine) that's he's been interested in inside his apartment. The film received mostly glowing reviews, besides the ones that called it "a dirty fairy tale." It is a dramedy, so there's a bit of comedy thrown in, but it also deals with infidelity and suicide, so this is no tame movie. I have personally seen it myself a few months ago, and I really liked it. It's one of the few comedies to win Best Picture, and it's good to see that every so often. The winners can't all be dramas and musicals. The Apartment had an easy time beating out the competition since the picks were rather weak. Had other classics been nominated, like Psycho, Spartacus, and The Magnificent Seven. then it may have been a different story. Are you noticing a trend here? It doesn't matter though, I still feel that The Apartment would have won, even having seen Psycho and The Magnificent Seven.
Winner: West Side Story
Director: Robert Wise, Jerome Robbins
Distributed by: United Artists
The gritty tale of warring Italian and Puerto-Rican gangs in New York's West Side. Oh, and they dance and sing. *Cliche record scratch*. You said what?! OK, everybody knows about this so I'm not fooling anyone. The story is basically a retelling of Romeo and Juliet with more dancing and Irish cops. The movie did incredibly well, winning the most Oscars of any musical and grossing the second highest amount in 1961. The soundtrack for the movie even became the best selling soundtrack of all time at that point. It's probably one of the few musicals that truly deserved the Best Picture Oscar and it's easy to see why. Great set design, great choreography, and songs that will stay in your head until the day you die. The film was so popular that it affected what kind of weapons you could carry around. People were so afraid of the switchblades portrayed in the movie, that it helped hasten laws against them being carried or possessed. It varies state to state if you can have one with you or not. Thanks a lot West Side Story, now I can't hassle shopkeepers!
Winner: Lawrence of Arabia
Director: David Lean
Distributed by: Columbia Pictures
If David Lean is known for anything, it's for putting together epic and masterful films. Lawrence of Arabia is no different. Based on the life of T.E. Lawrence (Peter O'Toole), the film details his exploits in Arabia during WWI. The movie completely steamrolled all the other nominees, the best of the lot being To Kill a Mockingbird. I'm not exaggerating when I say that it is one of the best films ever made. Yes, people think it's that good. I've seen it myself, but I don't think I truly appreciated it at the time. The only controversy surrounding the movie is the historical accuracy of it and how Lawrence is portrayed. That matters little to the average audience member though, so I can see why it's not a huge deal. The movie won seven Oscars, though none were for acting. Sorry, Peter and Omar. This is another one that needs a whole afternoon to tackle, so make sure you're up for a long movie.